Short reviews of films playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (PG-13) The least fabulous of all the Powers entries to date but still good, disposable fun. Goldmember is really just a loosely connected series of gags, routines and set pieces (not that the other two movies weren't) with much of the humor coming off as more raunchier and more obsessively screwy than ever. As usual, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me steal the show, although Myers gets off a few good licks with the latest addition to his roster of villains, the revolting and thoroughly irritating title character. Highlights include a brief trip back in time to 1975, a quick visit to swingin' Tokyo and, best of all, a series of cameos that begin and end the film on such a high note that everything else feels just a little flat. Stars Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Michael York and Seth Green.
Australia: Land Beyond Time (PG) The film takes us Down Under to the flattest, driest continent on earth, immerses us in parched, otherworldly landscapes and introduces us to tons of incredibly odd and supremely adaptable animals — from cute koalas and feisty dingoes, to an endless variety of bizarrely shaped lizards, to the amazing and little-understood kangaroo. Animal lovers will want to pounce on this one.
Blood Work (R) Clint Eastwood's latest is a workmanlike and wholly unremarkable thriller about a retired FBI agent with a brand new heart transplant and a serial killer on his tail. Eastwood stars and directs and, as in almost all of his films, there are some nicely detailed, low-key moments here. Most of the movie is far too predictable and very close to being an outright bore, however, and there are several dramatic moments that wind up seeming unintentionally funny (one being old Clint's lovemaking scene with yet another starlet 30 years his junior). Also starring Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Wanda De Jesus and Tina Lifford.
Blue Crush (PG-13) For all its faults, this is one surf movie that takes its cue more from Bruce Brown's Endless Summer than from Baywatch. Offering a glimpse into the lives of a group of young female surfers in Oahu, Blue Crush is a fairly interesting movie when it's just following its characters around. When the film attempts to tell us a story — something about finding love, regaining your confidence and becoming the best darned surfer in the word — it's predictable, shallow and not very good. The movie is unusually watchable, though, for such a lame narrative. It pays consistently close, respectful attention to the ins and outs of surf culture, from the beauty and sheer power of the sport to the particulars of the young, Twinkie-gobbling high school dropouts who are its devotees. Stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis and Sanoe Lake. Opens Aug. 16 at local theaters.
The Bourne Identity (PG-13) Matt Damon plays an amnesiac who also just happens to be a world-class fighter, linguist, escape artist — in fact, he pretty much possesses all the skills of a top-notch spy/sleuth/assassin. Complicating matters is the fact that, even as he tries to reclaim his memory, Damon's being hunted by the ultimate bad guys who appear to be his old bosses — our old pals, the CIA. The Bourne Identity is basically an action movie, but it's an overly murky one that lacks a real sense of urgency or purpose.
Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (PG) An extremely (and probably unintentionally) bizarre hybrid of a movie in which documentary-like sequences featuring cable TV personality Steve Crocodile Hunter Irwin uncomfortably coexisting with a brainless Hollywood comedy about bumbling CIA agents trying to retrieve a fallen satellite in Australia.
The Country Bears (G) A bear cub raised by humans sets out to discover his roots and winds up hanging with an all-bear band in Nashville. Stars Haley Joel Osment, Christopher Walken and Charles S. Dutton.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (PG-13) A consummate chick flick, but not a particularly good movie. Ya Ya spends the better part of two hours alternately skewering and romanticizing its central character — a self-centered, substance-abusing mother played as a young woman by Ashley Judd and as an aging matron by Ellen Burstyn — and then resolves all the complicated issues between the woman and her daughter in a final rush of unrepentant mush.
Eight Legged Freaks (PG-13) Frenetic but utterly brain-dead activity with jumbo-size spiders terrorizing a sleepy little Arizona town. Hordes of aggressive arachnids chatter and giggle as they slither and hop about, creating mayhem, but these critters exhibit virtually no personality . Eight Legged Freaks should have been a lot more fun than it is: It certainly isn't scary, and the humor is infinitely more miss than hit. The CGI spiders are technically impressive as state-of-the-art digital special effects, but soulless — they simply look too clean and perfect to really get under our skins. Stars the ever-annoying David Arquette, as well as Kari Wuhrer and Scarlett Johansson.
The Emperor's New Clothes (PG) A beautifully mounted if unspectacular What If? story in which Napoleon escapes exile from St. Helena in 1821 and returns to Paris, where he goes unrecognized and lives out his days in more or less happy obscurity. Ian Holm is extremely watchable as Napoleon (he's actually played this role on two previous occasions), but the film never rises to the level of its concept. Despite a handful of nice moments, it's basically sweet but slightly dull stuff. Also stars Iben Hjejle and Tim McInnerny.
Full Frontal (PG-13) Steven Soderbergh is back in full-blown experimental mode with this film-within-a-film-within-a-fantasy, in which the director seems to be having the time of his life creating what amounts to his own free-floating, self-contained universe. Full Frontal unfolds like a puzzle that begs to be put together even as it resists being solved. It's unclear for the longest time how the film's characters are related to one another, and we keep getting additional bits of information that suggest that everything we think we know is wrong. All that we do know is that most of the characters are either directly or peripherally connected to the movie industry, most of them have serious personal issues, and several of them are responsible for the movie that appears within the movie from time to time. Stars Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood, Catherine Keener, David Hyde Pierce, and Mary McCormack.
Gone With the Wind (G) Whether or not it's really the greatest epic love story ever translated to film is open to debate (though naysaying at this point in cinema's history is pretty much tantamount to heresy), but there's little use denying that Gone With the Wind is one heck of a Hollywood entertainment. Starring, as if you didn't know, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.Screens one time only at Tampa Theatre: Sunday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m.
Halloween: Resurrection (R) The studio decided not to have any advance screenings of this eighth and latest edition of the Halloween horror franchise, and that's not good news for anyone hoping that this movie is going to be anything other than sheer crap. Stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks.
Insomnia (R) One of the darker films you'll see this year, Insomnia is also one of the brightest, with the movie taking place in Alaska during that time of year when the sun hovers in the sky for 24 hours a day. Al Pacino stars as a cop who makes some very bad decisions and then becomes so sleep-deprived that he is unable to tell when he's crossed the line from good guy to bad guy. Also stars Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Maura Tierney and Martin Donovan.
K-19: The Widowmaker (R) K-19 boasts a powerhouse teaming of movie stars — Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson — and a director who, while not exactly an A-List name, has made some great little films in her time (Kathryn Bigelow, who helmed Near Dark and Strange Days). Now if only this was anywhere near a good movie, we'd really have something to talk about. The film tells what is basically a true story of the ill-fated voyage of a Russian nuclear submarine in the early 1960s, giving the whole thing the feel of some bleak, epic Dostoevskian tragedy. Also stars Peter Sarsgaard.
Lilo and Stitch (PG) Another hit from the Disney team, although not quite out of the ballpark. Lilo and Stitch is basically a brightened-up, kid-friendly reinvention of the Frankenstein story, in which a manmade monster (or, in this case, alien-created critter) comes to grips with his own, um, uniqueness and, in the process, finds something not unlike a soul. Disney's extraterrestrial Frankenstein is Stitch, a big-eyed, genetically altered experiment who crash lands on earth and hooks up with a lonely little Hawaiian girl named Lilo.
Like Mike (PG) Hip-hop mini-icon Lil' Bow Wow makes his, um, acting debut as a tiny teen who dons a pair of magical sneakers to become a great NBA star. Also stars old-timer Morris Chestnut and Jonathan Lipnicki.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13) The first of Peter Jackson's long-awaited adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy succeeds on just about every level it's supposed to. For virtually its entire three-hour running time, Jackson's epic fantasy keeps us happily immersed in the stuff of legends, sort of like a Harry Potter for grown-ups. A top-notch ensemble of name actors throw themselves into their roles, and scenes of considerable intimacy are handled with as much care and conviction as the fantastic, sprawling battle scenes that are laced throughout the movie. The movie's overall tone is heartfelt, graceful and even surprisingly cheery for a film about, among other bits of nastiness, the impending end of the world. Stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee.
Lovely and Amazing (PG-13) Although it's probably too close to an archetypal chick flick to win over much of a male audience, Lovely and Amazing is a significant improvement over director Nicole Holofcener's debut feature Walking and Talking — a self-indulgent waste of time that really was an archetypal chick flick in every sense. The mostly female ensemble includes Brenda Bethyn as a mother undergoing a liposuction procedure, Catherine Keener as one emotionally damaged daughter and Emily Mortimer as the other. The movie's humor, like its drama, is low-key but generally workable.
Martin Lawrence Live After traipsing around as a medieval knight and in a fatsuit in some forgettable recent films, Lawrence returns to what he allegedly does best: standup. The material is raunchy and offensive and perhaps even shocking. What else would you expect? Reviews have been generally unkind.
The Master of Disguise (PG) Dana Carvey gets a chance to showcase his considerable skills at mimicry as a multi-morphing sleuth battling a brilliant criminal mastermind. Expect lots of special effects and big, fat, physical comedy. Also stars Brent Spinner and Jennifer Esposito.
Men in Black II (PG-13) Although it might just have well been titled Men in Black I, Slight Return, this briskly paced 80-some minute romp offers considerable fun, particularly for the undiscriminating summer viewer. There are no real surprises here to speak of, with the movie's main characters and wisp of a plot basically just reprising them. The chemistry between stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones still works, although it's a bit more labored and even more minimalist than in the original. The nasty little talking dog steals the show. Also stars Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson and Rip Torn.
Minority Report (PG-13) The best movie of the summer, and one of the best movies of recent years, Steven Spielberg's sci-fi noir boasts a fascinating premise beautifully expanded into a provocative and consistently gripping feature-length film. Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report takes place in a not-so-distant future where crimes are predicted and criminals arrested before they actually commit their offense. Tom Cruise plays the top cop who becomes the glitch in a perfect system when he finds himself falsely accused and on the run. Minority Report is an exciting movie and, dare I say it, an important movie, made timelier than ever in the preemptive political environment of today. Although there's plenty of action, Minority Report is anything but an action movie; it's a smart, tough and tantalizing remapping of the familiar territory known as the crime thriller. Also stars Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton and Max Von Sydow.
Mr. Deeds (PG-13) Adam Sandler's latest is a remake of Frank Capra's classic populist comedy from 1936, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, in which a sweetly eccentric but basically ordinary guy suddenly comes into a huge amount of money, resulting in a close encounter with all the worldly garbage that comes with great wealth. In many ways, the remake is surprisingly faithful to Capra's original. What really separates the two versions, though, is the great divide between original star Gary Cooper and Adam Sandler — a leap of faith that says more about our culture than we might care to acknowledge. Also stars Winona Ryder, John Turturro, Peter Gallagher, Jared Harris and Steve Buscemi.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (PG) Nia Vardalos stars in this sweet-natured, sporadically amusing adaptation of her one-woman show about a plain Greek-American woman who transforms herself into a babe and hooks up with her Prince Charming — who, much to the chagrin of her loud and proud Greek family, turns out to be as WASP-y as they come. In all, Greek Wedding probably worked better on stage than on the big screen. Also stars John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin.
Ocean Men (PG) As beautiful and bombastic as a Wagner opera, this latest IMAX documentary tells the story of the friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) competition between two world-class athletes, each striving to dive to unimaginable depths without the aid of any sort of breathing apparatus. At IMAX Channelside. Call theater to confirm.
Reign of Fire (PG-13) A ragtag band of humans square off against a deadly species of fire-breathing dragons in the decimated future of 2020. Director Rob Bowman's movie looks good, if you go in for tons of grubby, post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but the plot arc here is just short of by-the-numbers, the action scenes are far too murky to generate much excitement, and the characters are uniformly underwritten or annoying. Stars Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale and Izabella Scorupco.
Road to Perdition (R) Director Sam Mendes follows up American Beauty with a densely textured but occasionally magnificent gangland epic. Tom Hanks stars in an uncharacteristically ambiguous role as a paid killer who doesn't like what he does, but does it anyway. Targeted by his former boss and a couple of mad dog killers, Hanks and his young son take to the road seeking revenge and survival, and finding (this is a Hollywood movie, after all) redemption. While not as immediately hooky as Mendes' debut, Perdition may just be an even better film. Also stars Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig and Tyler Hoechlin.
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (PG) An engaging mix of history, drama, fascinating archival footage and breathtaking, state-of-the-art photography, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure tells the incredible true tale of an epic battle for survival in the wake of a failed expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914. Playing at IMAX Dome Theater at MOSI. Call theater to confirm.
Signs (PG-13) The least convoluted but, in some ways, the least compelling movie yet from M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). Mel Gibson stars as a faith-challenged former clergyman who spends most of the movie sweating bullets and waiting, along with the rest of the world, for a devastating attack from hostile extraterrestrials. The movie is all mood — ominous, still and full of apocalyptic mystery. Nothing much happens, but it's good, uncomplicated pulp entertainment, with a vaguely spiritual underpinning that rises to the surface in the last act. Also stars Joaquin Phoenix , Cherry Jones and Rory Culkin.
Space Station (PG) IMAX featurette documenting a pair of voyages to the international space station floating high above planet Earth. The multinational crews include a mix of American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. At IMAX Dome Theater.
Spider-Man (PG) Sam Raimi's big screen adaptation of Spider-Man is surprisingly faithful to Spidey's origins as an outsider superhero, even if the edges have been smoothed out a touch. The movie's first half lays the story out in a manner that has all the symmetry and primal oomph of modern myth, with Peter Parker spending most of the movie simply adjusting to his new powers. Even though the second half of Spider-Man is infinitely more action-packed than the setup, the movie gives the distinct impression of slowing down as it progresses. Also stars Kirsten Dunst and James Franco.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (PG) Just to get the caveats out of the way, this is even more of a turn your brain off at the door and just enjoy it sort of affair than the first one, but if you're down with that, the sky's the limit. Like its predecessor, Spy Kids 2 is an unapologetically silly little romp that's so full of energy and sincerity it's almost impossible to dislike. It's not a great movie, but it's a pretty darned good kids' movie because it does what it does very well and, most important of all, it almost never condescends to its audience. As in the first time around, there's not much story here, but plenty of zingy action, cool gadgets, scary monsters (but not too scary), fabulous eye candy and sheer momentum. Stars Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Steve Buscemi, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (PG) As enticing as anything George Lucas has ever done, Episode II is good enough to not only ease the pain of the fiasco otherwise known as Episode I, it quite nearly redeems it. The middle installment of Lucas' new trilogy is a big, juicy entertainment that manages to put into perspective everything that's come before and neatly set up what's to follow. The action sequences are among Lucas' most muscular and exciting to date, but the movie's narrative is surprisingly intriguing as well. Stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee.
Stuart Little 2 (G) Teeny tiny tikes will eat up this barely 75-minute sequel to Stuart Little, but most grown-ups will either be bored out of their skulls or find their teeth tingling from all the sugar-coated sap. Despite the expensive-looking production values and state-of-the-art CGI effects, Stuart Little has the bland, throwaway feel of a direct-to-video sequel. There wasn't much of an edge to the first Stuart project, but in this one, virtually everybody is as sweetly innocuous as the title rodent. Stars Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and the voices of Michael J. Fox, Melanie Griffith and Nathan Lane.
The Sum of All Fears (PG-13) An expertly crafted thriller that delivers a terrifyingly believable account of the doomsday scenario so many of us now consider inevitable — terrorists smuggle in a nuclear device and detonate it on U.S. soil. The Sum of All Fears will be a little too real for many. A nutty neo-Nazi plans to play the U.S. and Russia against each other, orchestrating attacks in each country for which the other will be blamed and consequently triggering Armageddon — causing the movie to play out a little like Dr. Strangelove redone as a Hollywood thriller.
Sunshine State (PG-13) John Sayles' new film is set in a run-down Florida beach town in danger of being swallowed up by teams of competing out-of-state developers. The locals are conflicted about what to do, and the whole thing is further complicated by all sorts of factors, not excluding the various characters' race, gender and age. Sunshine State weaves a rich, complicated web, both personal and political, threading a series of smart little character sketches into an appealing mix of soap opera and ideology (not to mention some great one-liners). Stars Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel and Mary Steenburgen.
Tadpole (R) See Film column.
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (NR) It's one of the best American films of the year and certainly the most interesting movie to play at Tampa Theatre in ages. If Thirteen Conversations About One Thing has any real faults, it's that it simply tries to say too much. Snippets from the lives of several stressed-out characters are presented as a mosaic that crisscrosses effortlessly and elegantly through time and space, bringing the characters together in a way that confirms their deepest fears and our wildest hopes. The film occasionally veers into self-conscious staginess and pretense, but at other times it seems very close to a mystical experience, wordlessly wise in a way that few films manage these days. Stars Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Clea DuVall, Amy Irving and Alan Arkin.
Ultimate X (PG) Not your standard IMAX movie by a long shot, Ultimate X cops an attitude that's almost as edgy and irreverent as its subject matter — those Extreme Sports featured in ESPN's popular X Games, like BMX biking, skateboarding, street luge, wakeboarding, speed climbing and all other manner of daredevil events. The stunts and tricks are spectacular, and so are the wipeouts. Featured are skaters Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek, BMX stunt riders Ryan Nyquist and Cory Nasty Nastazio and Moto X rider Carey Hart. At Channelside IMAX. Call theater to confirm.
Unfaithful (R) A tale of marital deception that starts out as a fairly standard erotic thriller but becomes much more interesting in its later stages, when it tackles the aftermath of the affair. Diane Lane stars as a more-or-less happy suburban housewife who enters into a steamy affair with a sexy French bohemian (Olivier Martinez). Lane (who's quite convincing as a woman both thrilled and repelled by what she's doing) and hubby Richard Gere sink gradually into an abyss of secrets and lies, with the movie's real strength being the unflinching detailing of that unhappy process.
XXX (R) A movie so relentlessly forward propelled that we hardly even have a chance to catch our breath and realize how utterly idiotic it all is. Vin Diesel is the star here, and he's very much in the mold of other terrible actors who get paid to anchor big, comic book movies (think Keanu in The Matrix or Arnold in almost anything). Diesel (who names these guys, anyway?) plays Xander Cage, X for short, a bald, tattooed slab of flesh given to looking straight into the camera and screaming lines like, I live for this shit! Enter Samuel L. Jackson in a wig and with latex scar tissue over half his face, as an NSA agent looking for fresh blood to combat a group of international bad guys. X is recruited, infiltrates the bad guys' group, and spends the rest of movie striding around in a ratty sheepskin coat, pulling off outrageous stunts and shouting glib catch phrases while clobbering baddies and saving the world. Also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento and Michael Roof.
—Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted